Surge in student voters

By Larry Hlavenka

At Bergen Community College, students are getting out to vote in higher numbers.

It’s Election Day in many states and many colleges and universities are encouraging students to get out and vote. A New Jersey community college has already seen its voter engagement initiatives pay off.

The voting rate of registered Bergen Community College students jumped nearly 28 percent from 2014 to 2018. That outpaced the historic 21 percent national surge experienced during the same time period. The data, compiled in the National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement by the Institute for Democracy and Higher Education at Tufts University’s Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life, found that 2,430 more Bergen students voted in the 2018 elections than in 2014. Seventy percent of Bergen students were registered to vote in the 2018 elections, compared to 53.3 percent four years prior.

The study’s authors said the results “defied [a] longstanding pattern” of midterm election voting rates dipping far below those in presidential election years. Further, the researchers believe “this suggests a promising trajectory to student voting” fueled by year-round voter participation initiatives, “innovative student political learning experiences, robust involvement by faculty across disciplines, voter education, political forums as active discussions, student issue activism and institutional leadership and champion support.”

The study consists of a database of more than 10 million deidentified student records that have been combined with publicly available voting records for each of the 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2018 elections. Participating institutions include two- and four-year public and private colleges and universities, including graduate programs. Campuses must opt in, and at the time of the report, 1,031 colleges and universities in all 50 states and the District of Columbia participate. The initiative launched in 2013.

At Bergen, students take part in numerous initiatives that support voter engagement. Among them, the College participates in the New Jersey Ballot Bowl, a competition sponsored by the New Jersey secretary of state that encourages colleges and universities to enroll the most student voters. Additionally, Bergen works with a variety of both on- and off-campus groups, including student organizations, the League of Women Voters, the National Council of Jewish Women and the Goodman Foundation, to host voter registration drives and to promote local, state and national elections.

Larry Hlavenka

is executive director of public relations, community and cultural affairs at Bergen Community College in Paramus, New Jersey.